mini-review · stuff I read

Babel: Around the World in Twenty Languages by Gaston Dorren

39027389Summary from Goodreads:
English is the world language, except that most of the world doesn’t speak it–only one in five people does. Dorren calculates that to speak fluently with half of the world’s 7.4 billion people in their mother tongues, you would need to know no fewer than twenty languages. He sets out to explore these top twenty world languages, which range from the familiar (French, Spanish) to the surprising (Malay, Javanese, Bengali). Babel whisks the reader on a delightful journey to every continent of the world, tracing how these world languages rose to greatness while others fell away and showing how speakers today handle the foibles of their mother tongues. Whether showcasing tongue-tying phonetics or elegant but complicated writing scripts, and mind-bending quirks of grammar, Babel vividly illustrates that mother tongues are like nations: each has its own customs and beliefs that seem as self-evident to those born into it as they are surprising to the outside world. Among many other things, Babel will teach you why modern Turks can’t read books that are a mere 75 years old, what it means in practice for Russian and English to be relatives, and how Japanese developed separate “dialects” for men and women. Dorren lets you in on his personal trials and triumphs while studying Vietnamese in Hanoi, debunks ten widespread myths about Chinese characters, and discovers that Swahili became the lingua franca in a part of the world where people routinely speak three or more languages. Witty, fascinating and utterly compelling, Babel will change the way you look at and listen to the world and how it speaks.

I very much enjoyed Lingo (Dorren’s tour through 60!languages of Europe) and so was definitely looking forward to Babel, where Dorren does a deep-dive into the 20 most-spoken languages of the world. What’s nice about Dorren’s writing is the way he constructs each chapter to serve the point he wants to make in the chapter. One might be presented as a Q&A, another a history of the region which then impacted on the development of the language (Tamil, for example), another a recounting of his attempt to learn a serviceable amount of the language (Vietnamese). This is a much more nuts-and-bolts-of-language book rather than a quick jaunt through the world but he still keeps it readable.

(I was quite amused that at one point Dorren quotes some research about the “weirdness” of a language, kind of a summation of it’s unique qualities compared to other languages, and it turns out that German was the most weird of the twenty languages under study in this book. Poor me. German is the only other language that I could possibly converse in – and it is hard to learn! Haha!)

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

A Notorious Vow by Joanna Shupe (The Four Hundred #3)

37821671Summary from Goodreads:
Joanna Shupe returns to New York City’s Gilded Age, where fortunes and reputations are gained and lost with ease—and love can blossom from the most unlikely charade

With the fate of her disgraced family resting on her shoulders, Lady Christina Barclay has arrived in New York City from London to quickly secure a wealthy husband. But when her parents settle on an intolerable suitor, Christina turns to her reclusive neighbor, a darkly handsome and utterly compelling inventor, for help.

Oliver Hawkes reluctantly agrees to a platonic marriage . . . with his own condition: The marriage must end after one year. Not only does Oliver face challenges that are certain to make life as his wife difficult, but more importantly, he refuses to be distracted from his life’s work—the development of a revolutionary device that could transform thousands of lives, including his own.

Much to his surprise, his bride is more beguiling than he imagined. When temptation burns hot between them, they realize they must overcome their own secrets and doubts, and every effort to undermine their marriage, because one year can never be enough.

I didn’t manage to get to the third book in Joanna Shupe’s Four Hundred series, A Notorious Vow, before the galley expired – but my excellent public library had a copy and I was able to get to it sooner rather than later.

A flat-out one sitting read. I picked up my hold at the library and soon found myself eating a sandwich one-handed and trying to pour a glass of milk with only half an eye. The care and work Shupe has taken with her Deaf hero is outstanding. Oliver’s experiences were based on historical sources and personal experiences of people close to Shupe and she is very up-front in stating in her Note that she had input from members of the Deaf community. You really do understand why Oliver kind-of gives up on dealing with society and their garbage assumptions about Deaf people and shuts himself up in his house to use his intelligence and fortune to make a device to help others with diminished hearing. Christina, also, is more than just a young English lady cowed by her parents but has backbone and intelligence. The novel’s plot is first-rate (fake-marriage trope, yes!) and the secondary characters are excellent: Christina’s parents are the actual WORST, Oliver’s cousin is appropriately greedy and nefarious, and Oliver’s little sister is endearingly spunky. The best of The Four Hundred Series thus far.

Dear FTC: I started with a digital galley then borrowed a copy from the library.

mini-review · stuff I read

Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of ’80s and ’90s Teen Fiction by Gabrielle Moss

40093255Summary from Goodreads:
A hilarious and nostalgic trip through the history of paperback pre-teen series of the 80s and 90s.

Every twenty- or thirty-something woman knows these books. The pink covers, the flimsy paper, the zillion volumes in the series that kept you reading for your entire adolescence. Spurred by the commercial success of Sweet Valley High and The Babysitters Club, these were not the serious-issue YA novels of the 1970s, nor were they the blockbuster books of the Harry Potter and Twilight ilk. They were cheap, short, and utterly beloved.

PAPERBACK CRUSH dives in deep to this golden age with affection, history, and a little bit of snark. Readers will discover (and fondly remember) girl-centric series on everything from correspondence (Pen Pals and Dear Diary) to sports (The Pink Parrots, Cheerleaders, and The Gymnasts) to a newspaper at an all-girls Orthodox Jewish middle school (The B.Y. Times) to a literal teen angel (Teen Angels: Heaven Can Wait, where an enterprising guardian angel named Cisco has to earn her wings “by helping the world’s sexist rock star.”) Some were blatant ripoffs of the successful series (looking at you, Sleepover Friends and The Girls of Canby Hall), some were sick-lit tearjerkers à la Love Story (Abby, My Love) and some were just plain perplexing (Uncle Vampire??) But all of them represent that time gone by of girl-power and endless sessions of sustained silent reading.

In six hilarious chapters (Friendship, Love, School, Family, Jobs, Terror, and Tragedy), Bustle Features Editor Gabrielle Moss takes the reader on a nostalgic tour of teen book covers of yore, digging deep into the history of the genre as well as the stories behind the best-known series.

Paperback Crush is a delightful romp through ’80s and ’90s teen and tween literature. The more things change, the more they stay the same in the book world. I loved the combination of tongue-in-cheek writing with serious examinations of the genre’s successes and shortcomings (it was overwhelmingly white, straight, able-bodied, and well-off) although I would have liked more in-depth analyses of some trends. A good one to pair with Lizzie Skurnick’s Shelf Discovery.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount

37826511

Summary from Goodreads:
The ultimate gift for book lovers, this volume brims with literary treasures, all delightfully illustrated by beloved artist and founder of Ideal Bookshelf, Jane Mount.

Book lovers, rejoice! In this love letter to all things bookish, Jane Mount brings literary people, places, and things to life through her signature and vibrant illustrations. Readers will:

• Tour the world’s most beautiful bookstores
• Test their knowledge of the written word with quizzes
• Find their next great read in lovingly curated stacks of books
• Sample the most famous fictional meals
• Peek inside the workspaces of their favorite authors
A source of endless inspiration, literary facts and recommendations, and pure bookish joy, Bibliophile is sure to enchant book clubbers, English majors, poetry devotees, inspiring writers, and any and all who identify as bookworms.

If you loved My Ideal Bookshelf Jane Mount is back with a tour of the book world. Bibliophile is a lovely book about books, bookstores, readers, and writers complete with Jane Mounts beautiful book-stack paintings (she started Ideal Bookshelf, you’ve probably seen their stuff). It is a delightful tour through the book world.

(The only oops is that she somehow misses the rise of Internet Poetry – however, there are, like, 12 pages devoted to books about cooking and food so A++ there.)

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

American Overdose: The Opioid Tragedy in Three Acts by Chris McGreal

39089122Summary from Goodreads:
A comprehensive portrait of a uniquely American epidemic–devastating in its findings and damning in its conclusions
The opioid epidemic has been described as “one of the greatest mistakes of modern medicine.” But calling it a mistake is a generous rewriting of the history of greed, corruption, and indifference that pushed the US into consuming more than 80 percent of the world’s opioid painkillers.
Journeying through lives and communities wrecked by the epidemic, Chris McGreal reveals not only how Big Pharma hooked Americans on powerfully addictive drugs, but the corrupting of medicine and public institutions that let the opioid makers get away with it.
The starting point for McGreal’s deeply reported investigation is the miners promised that opioid painkillers would restore their wrecked bodies, but who became targets of “drug dealers in white coats.”
A few heroic physicians warned of impending disaster. But American Overdose exposes the powerful forces they were up against, including the pharmaceutical industry’s coopting of the Food and Drug Administration and Congress in the drive to push painkillers–resulting in the resurgence of heroin cartels in the American heartland. McGreal tells the story, in terms both broad and intimate, of people hit by a catastrophe they never saw coming. Years in the making, its ruinous consequences will stretch years into the future.

I haven’t read Dreamland or Dopesick yet (they’re on the TBR, I swear) but my first dive into books about the opioid crisis made me Very Angry. Like, gnaw-my-arm-off levels of frustration akin to reading Bad Blood angry.

The actual lack of empathy and compassion of not only Big Pharma representatives, lobbyists, and politicians, but the physicians and other healthcare workers….it is appalling. All the systems that are supposed to prevent problems like this failed us because Capitalism and Political Lobbying (like, WTF, do people not understand about Conflict of Interest???). Also, there was/is an extremely concerning disregard of actual science by scientists and physicians. “Oh, legitimate pain is a barrier to addiction” – did they not actually take biochemistry? None of these people should be allowed to practice science or medicine again.

The sad thing is that we really do lack actual, non-subjective methods of measuring pain and further research into how the body processes pain signals. Getting good research into those areas will help develop non-opioid treatment methods. But people would rather throw a pill at it instead of try something more labor-intensive like extended physical therapy or massage. Even if new treatments are developed it will be too late for tens of thousands of people who got hooked on opioids or died from overdoses or from taking tainted opioids.

McGreal also touched upon the privilege granted to those rural, white, blue-collar workers with legitimate pain caught up in the money-making schemes of unscrupulous, greedy “practitioners” and now addicted to powerful narcotics versus the hard-line taken by law enforcement regarding the crack cocaine epidemic affecting people of color in urban areas during the 1980s (who probably also had legitimate pain issues and little access to medication or ongoing quality medical care). He didn’t delve too deeply into racism or the disparities but did point them out to make plain the sympathy shown to one group and not the other.

A definite recommend for everyone.

Dear FTC: I borrowed a copy of this book from my store.

mini-review · stuff I read

All Systems Red by Martha Wells (The Murderbot Diaries #1)

33387769Summary from Goodreads:
In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

“Cozy SF” is now a thing. I love it. And I love this first installment in a series about a self-named Murderbot (a security unit on a science survey) who just really wants to be left alone to watch this universe’s equivalent of Netflix but then it develops a fondness for its humans and has to save their lives. Murderbot has such a dry tone as narrator and Wells also manages to convey the humans’ confusion in wondering how to deal with their unconvential construct…who doesn’t really want to hang out with them (not to be rude, but it just doesn’t feel like interacting with them).

Definitely reading more.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · Read My Own Damn Books · stuff I read

The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books #1) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, translated by Lucia Graves

1232Summary from Goodreads:
The international literary sensation, about a boy’s quest through the secrets and shadows of postwar Barcelona for a mysterious author whose book has proved as dangerous to own as it is impossible to forget.

Barcelona, 1945 – just after the war, a great world city lies in shadow, nursing its wounds, and a boy named Daniel awakes on his eleventh birthday to find that he can no longer remember his mother’s face. To console his only child, Daniel’s widowed father, an antiquarian book dealer, initiates him into the secret of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a library tended by Barcelona’s guild of rare-book dealers as a repository for books forgotten by the world, waiting for someone who will care about them again. Daniel’s father coaxes him to choose a volume from the spiraling labyrinth of shelves, one that, it is said, will have a special meaning for him. And Daniel so loves the novel he selects, The Shadow of the Wind by one Julian Carax, that he sets out to find the rest of Carax’s work. To his shock, he discovers that someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book this author has written. In fact, he may have the last one in existence. Before Daniel knows it his seemingly innocent quest has opened a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets, an epic story of murder, magic, madness and doomed love. And before long he realizes that if he doesn’t find out the truth about Julian Carax, he and those closest to him will suffer horribly.

As with all astounding novels, The Shadow of the Wind sends the mind groping for comparisons—The Crimson Petal and the White? The novels of Arturo Pérez-Reverte? Of Victor Hugo? Love in the Time of Cholera?—but in the end, as with all astounding novels, no comparison can suffice. As one leading Spanish reviewer wrote, “The originality of Ruiz Zafón’s voice is bombproof and displays a diabolical talent. The Shadow of the Wind announces a phenomenon in Spanish literature.” An uncannily absorbing historical mystery, a heart-piercing romance, and a moving homage to the mystical power of books, The Shadow of the Wind is a triumph of the storyteller’s art.

I’ve been trying to finish The Shadow of the Wind for years. It was one of the first books to end up on my “Read My Own Damn Books” list. For some reason, I just couldn’t get any steam going to actually make headway in the book beyond the first few chapters.

Thanks to a combination of paper and audio book, I finally finished! Once I go into the meat of the study I really liked the labyrinthine plotting – even if it did slow the reading down. The recreation of the Spain and Barcelona of the Spanish Civil War and Franco was very atmospheric. The ending was both climactic (action!) and anti-climactic (because I’d guessed all the reveals since those bits were all very Victorian-Gothic-ish). And now I can read the rest of the books in the series.

Or at least try to – I may have three more entries in my list.

Dear FTC: I read my own trade paper copy and borrowed the audiobook via the library’s Overdrive site.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Duchess by Design by Maya Rodale (The Guilded Age Girls Club #1)

38388578Summary from Goodreads:
In the first novel of Maya Rodale’s enthralling new series, an English duke vows to make an American seamstress his duchess…

In Gilded Age Manhattan, anything can happen…

Seeking a wealthy American bride who can save his family’s estate, Brandon Fiennes, the duke of Kingston, is a rogue determined to do the right thing. But his search for an heiress goes deliciously awry when an enchanting seamstress tumbles into his arms instead.

…and true love is always in fashion

Miss Adeline Black aspires to be a fashionable dressmaker—not a duchess—and not even an impossibly seductive duke will distract her. But Kingston makes an offer she can’t refuse: join him at society events to display her gowns and advise him on which heiresses are duchess material. It’s the perfect plan—as long as they resist temptation, avoid a scandal, and above all do not lose their hearts.

I have agonized over my thoughts on Maya Rodale’s new book, Duchess by Design. Because it isn’t BAD, this was a fun read. I loved all the amazing historical details and lady-positive plot points (and consent-positive sexytimes). But I just didn’t believe that, beyond the Instalust, Kingston and Adeline deserved their HEA. They didn’t spend very much time together aside from a walk in the park and a meeting or two and a few nights out on the town; their social statuses were so different they didn’t spend much time together except for strategic points in the plot. We don’t really get to know them as a couple. So while this is a really great start to a new series I know Maya can do better. (As my friend Karena pointed out to me – this is really a love story between a woman and her awesome dresses with pockets.)

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.